Expanding Residential Community Care and Services: A policy option for New Zealand?

Shaun Goldfinch

Principal Policy Adviser, Service Development, Department of Corrections

Author biography:

Shaun holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He was a Professor and Director of Research at Canterbury Christ Church Business School in the UK, Head of School of Management and Public Administration at the University of the South Pacific, and an Associate Professor at the Nottingham University Business School. He has consulted to the US Department of Defense, the Japanese Ministry of Education, the UK Department for International Development, and New Zealand agencies. He has held positions in the New Zealand Department of Justice and the Institute for Social Research and Development.

Keywords: halfway house; residential care; rehabilitation; reintegration; transition.

With around 2,500 people released annually by the Parole Board on various conditions, and over 10,000 sentenced individuals released each year from prison, there is a demand for support to assist individuals’ transition and reintegration back into society, including the provision of suitable accommodation. New Zealand already provides around 1,000 places for a variety of short and medium term “supported” accommodation, and the “Out of Gate” service assists around 2,500 individuals to reintegrate into society. In a number of other countries however, there are large and well-established networks of residential community facilities to provide such transitional accommodation and support: they are called “halfway houses” in the United States, “Community-Based Residential Facilities” in Canada, and “approved premises” or “probation hostels” in the United Kingdom. Scandinavia has a considerable number of “open prisons” that serve similar functions. New Zealand arguably has just one so-called “Residential Community Centre” based in Christchurch: the Salisbury St Foundation, based explicitly on the United States’ “halfway house” model. However, drug and alcohol residential treatment facilities such as Moana House and Odyssey House, some supported accommodation offered by private providers, and the Salvation Army Lodges in Christchurch and Epsom, share some characteristics. For this article, these facilities are collectively referred to as “Residential Community Care and Service” facilities, or “residential community facilities” for short.

These residential community facilities provide accommodation, therapeutic services such as alcohol and drug treatment, education and training, and work programmes, amongst other things. They focus on preparing those who have left prison to adjust to their new lives in society, and act to address the causes of offending so individuals do not return to prison. The American term “halfway” house is somewhat of a giveaway here: the individuals are halfway “out” of prison and halfway “into” society. The house, or residential community facility, seeks to manage that transition in a supportive and somewhat secure environment; and in a large variety of ways depending on the facility and country in question.

Some residential community facilities provide services and accommodation before or instead of imprisonment. These can be for those on a sentence, but they may also be for those who have not yet been found guilty or are to be sentenced – such as those on bail or similar. This includes so-called “bail housing”, such as “bail hostels” in the United Kingdom and Australia. These provide accommodation, individuals may be subject to some form of security such as electronic monitoring, and some therapeutic and other services may be offered to address individuals’ assessed needs. In American parlance, such facilities can be termed “halfway-in”: they are seen as trying to assist individuals from fully entering the prison system. They provide an environment that is less prison-like than that faced by those remanded to custody, at the same time providing a degree of security and monitoring to mitigate risk. They can also allow therapeutic and other interventions to be delivered that might manage and mitigate difficult issues faced by individuals. In general, such facilities have been associated with positive outcomes, including meeting bail conditions.

Residential community facilities after imprisonment – particularly for those released from prison on parole or similar – are particularly relevant for New Zealand’s current policy discussion. Expanded accommodation facilities could facilitate more releases to parole, all things being equal. Again, the focus is transition from prison to society, but again, the massive size and variety of these facilities makes drawing common lessons difficult. In the United States, these range from house size to large facilities of 900 beds or more. In the UK, in contrast, most Parole Hostels are in converted residences of small size located in residential areas. Some residents may be in the facility 24 hours a day, some may have night curfews and be released during the day. Some are released to employment, returning to the facilities outside working hours. Many are on parole or other orders, and residence is required. Violations of conditions can see individuals returned to prison. Length of stay can last from a few months to years, with the average for the US Delancey St Foundation houses being four years.

The number and variety of these facilities is vast. The United States’ Federal Bureau of Prisons contracts out to 200 private centres catering for 24,000 clients annually. The states also offer their own facilities, with, for example, Pennsylvania offering 15 centres directly and contracting out 50 more (Caputo, 2014). The United Kingdom offers around 100 parole hostels, of which about 10 percent are contracted out to non-governmental organisations catering for around 2,000 individuals. Canada’s over 200 Community-Based Residential Facilities are run either by the Correctional Service directly or through various community and private providers. Around C$30 million each year is spent  housing 1,200 residents a day.

The United States’ system is to a degree predicated on linking prison release to these reintegrational environments. This focus on a somewhat seamless transition including education and training, along with therapeutic treatments, is also of particular relevance for New Zealand as we discuss expanding our services in this area. For example, the state government-run Bo Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in New Jersey provides 900 beds and offers a wide range of therapeutic programmes, including mental health and substance abuse. They also run reintegrative interventions such as work preparation, work training, and work release programmes, to prepare individuals to re-enter society. The private Delancey St Foundation, founded in San Francisco, but now with housing for a total of around 2,000 people in eight other locations, is particularly focused on providing self-help and education.All leadership, teaching and support is provided by the residents themselves, with residents graduating with at least high school equivalency and three self-described “marketable skills”, developed through working in the Foundation’s various successful businesses. Some gain degrees, with an in-house bachelor degree offered in partnership with accredited universities.

Scandinavia’s (usually ungated) open prisons account for around a third of prison beds and share similarities with residential community facilities elsewhere. They act as “socialisation machines” to prepare mostly longer serving inmates to return to society. Most residents have some time remaining on their sentences so they can be recalled to closed prisons if they violate their conditions. This happens in around 15-20 percent of cases (Pratt, 2008). A good example of a Scandinavian open prison is the Norwegian island prison of Bastoy, which houses 100 inmates, serviced by around 80 staff. Conditions are as close to “normal” as possible, with residents either working or studying, living in shared cottages, shopping for and cooking their own meals, receiving visitors including conjugal visits, and able to walk around the island in their free time. Trusted prisoners can take jobs outside the facility. A curfew still exists, however, and residents face drug tests and head counts, and are subject to limits on phone use (Shammas, 2014). Finland’s Suomenlinna open prison is another ungated island community, where 33 staff support 100 electronically monitored inmates to prepare them to re-enter society. Residents are able to work on maintaining the UNESCO World Heritage Site on the island. They are paid at normal wage rates, can obtain vocational and other education, receive treatment for substance abuse, and engage in other leisure activities. Some are able to work outside the prison, including off the island in near-by Helsinki. Residence may be from six months to two years.

In summary, Residential Community Care and Service facilities offer a less restrictive environment than prison, seeking to provide something closer to “normal” life. At the same time, they still provide a considerable – perhaps transitional – degree of security such as electronic monitoring and drug testing, and residents can be returned to custody if conditions are not met. Along with accommodation, a large variety of services are offered to prepare individuals to re-enter society as productive members and to address the causes of their offending. These houses and hostels are part of a system that provides a more-or-less seamless gradual transition from prison, to residential facilities, to re-entry to normal life; hopefully now as crime-free and productive individuals.

Do they work?

The ubiquity of residential community facilities around the world suggests they provide a useful and perhaps vital function in correctional and rehabilitation systems. But what evidence exists that they do actually work? And what does “work” mean in this context? Some studies of individual programmes find positive results. For New Zealand’s own Salisbury St Foundation, of those that graduate the programme, around 30 percent return to prison, generally better than overall return rates (Newbold and Hough, 2009). The Delancey St Foundation received positive evaluations in various independent studies, including significantly reduced re-offending rates for those completing the programme (Franklin, 1998). A 2017 United Kingdom government review of Parole Hostels in England and Wales found positive benefits, including lower recidivism rates, and argued risk to the public was well managed (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2017). An Australian review of variants of supported and transitional housing, some of which fit within the residential community facilities’ model, found positive outcomes, including on recidivism, albeit with mixed results (Willis, 2016). Canadian government sources claim positive benefits for their community-based residential facilities, including better re-offending outcomes (Office of the Correctional Investigator, 2014). Bastoy open prison in Norway claims a 16 percent re-offending rate, compared to the European average of 60 percent (James, 2013).

Moving to the academic literature – and bearing in mind the huge diversity of residential facilities – in general, a variety of studies across the world find comparable and sometimes better re-offending rates for individuals released from residential community facilities, as compared to direct release from prison without residential requirements or services. Studies of residential drug and alcohol treatment programmes suggest a number of positive outcomes, including reduced re-offending and improvements on other measures of criminality (Perryman and Dingle, 2015; Chenhall, 2008; Patterson et al 2015). Other studies claim work release and other services in residential facilities provide employment and vocational opportunities, and reduce recidivism, re-arrest and reconviction for certain types of offenders (Osterman, Hamilton and Campbell, 2014). However, it is fair to say findings are mixed. A recent study in New Jersey found little difference between recidivist outcomes for a residential community care facility and a comparison group for re-arrests, reconvictions and re-incarcerations (Routh and Hamilton, 2014). A 2017 systematic review of supported accommodation in English-speaking countries found little effect on outcomes, including reconviction and reimprisonment (Growns, Kinner, Conroy, Baldry and Larny, 2017).

Given the variety of facilities, perhaps we can draw lessons from those facilities that do seem to provide positive outcomes. A body of research finds that locating houses in low crime areas and higher socio-economic areas improves outcomes such as reduced re-offending, as does well led, targeted and designed programmes with clear rules and expectations, and well selected, motivated and older residents (McGown, 2016). Success was related to better matching of programmes to offender needs, and for medium and high risk offenders (Perryman and Dingle, 2015; Chenhall, 2008). In some cases, low risk offenders may not benefit greatly from these facilities and may not be suitable residents. Drawing on lessons from best practice around the world will assist in improving re-offending outcomes if such facilities are expanded in New Zealand; but there may also be other benefits, as I now examine.

Benefits beyond reducing re-offending

Expanding community residential facilities may save costs relative to imprisonment. The Correctional Service of Canada found federally provided residential facilities cost $72,333 annually per resident, compared to $117,788 per inmate incarcerated (Office of the Correctional Investigator, 2014). Probation hostels in England and Wales cost around GBP30,000 per bed, compared to around GBP35,000 in prison (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2017). Norway’s open prisons cost one-third to one-half per prison bed compared to high security prisons (Shammas, 2014).

Cost savings could be delivered for New Zealand through expanding our current services. It costs around $100-110,000 annually to keep someone in a New Zealand prison. In marked contrast, Salisbury Street provides 11 places annually to Corrections at a cost of $615,000. There are the costs of negotiating and managing contracts, of course. However, by working with NGOs and private providers, including iwi, it is possible savings could be delivered. Indeed, drawing on the expertise of such organisations as the Salvation Army, which runs programmes across the world, including New Zealand, could provide benefits beyond the simply financial.

Rehabilitation and reintegration too can be conceived as wider than simply reducing re-offending. The desistance literature and “good lives” model focuses on gradual changes in re-offending behaviour and building opportunities for individuals to have better, healthier and more productive lives (Ward and Maruna 2007). Care in residential community facilities has the ability to deliver culturally appropriate programmes for Māori and other individuals, particularly if offered in cooperation with iwi and other community providers. Moreover, by providing sites where other programmes can be delivered that target the needs of Corrections’ clients, there is potential to improve completion rates of rehabilitation programmes, and better address the reintegration and transition needs of individuals. A considerable body of evidence finds that residential facilities that link to work training and placements reduce re-offending – and might have benefits beyond that, with workers not on benefits and contributing to paying taxes. Again, outcomes such as improved work skills, education, improved mental and other health, and pro-social change, are positive outcomes in themselves  (O’Sullivan, Williams, Hong, Bright and Kemp, 2018). Expanding provision of residential facilities is likely to contribute to these outcomes (Osterman, Hamilton and Campbell, 2014).

Expanding Residential Community Care and Services: A policy option to consider

The government has signalled it wishes to reduce prison numbers in the next 15 years and provide a safer and more effective justice system. Expanding Residential Community Care and Service facilities has potential to contribute to addressing these aims. These facilities provide transitional and reintegrational support for those leaving prison. They offer a degree of normality for individuals leaving the prison environment, but at the same time provide a degree of security to mitigate risk. They have comparable or better re-offending rates than prison, provide potential savings in costs, and have the potential to provide programmes tailored to the work and training and therapeutic needs of individuals. In summary, expanding Residential Community Care and Services, particularly by drawing guidance from best practice elsewhere, provides a useful opportunity to address key policy priorities.


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